Lowe: Analyzing classed state vs. single-class state

A photo from Indiana's state wrestling tournament (Photo/Steve Asa)

Five years ago, InterMat did a feature article analyzing the different state tournament formats across the country (individual, dual meet, scored vs. unscored, number of qualifiers, number of classes, et al). Now it's time to revisit one aspect of the topic with an analytical twist.

At times there is discussion on both state and national message boards about the merits of "classed" individual state wrestling tournaments. At the simplest level, the debate may center on if the state wrestling tournament be conducted as one event regardless of school enrollment size. On a secondary level, discussion may shift towards the "proper" number of classes.

To set the table for this discussion, let's lay out how many classes (or divisions) each state has for its individual bracket wrestling championships at present. Note that certain states will use classifications that are in effect across all sports, while others will create an equal number of schools/teams in each division for that specific sport.

At the simplest level, those advocating for a single-class tournament believe that all individuals should go after a single championship for that state. Having multiple state champions takes away from the concept of "state champion" (emphasis on the singular). Individual wrestlers can be successful regardless of the size of the school for which they compete. Additional positive notes of a single-class event include the rigor associated with winning, placing, and/or qualifying in said tournament.

To the contrary, those advocating for classed state tournaments believe that the size of school for which a wrestler competes does have impact on success. Generally speaking, this concept of success is defined on both the individual and team (program) levels. While individual success may be independent of school size, team success is clearly not independent. This is due to the "law of large numbers" and other related factors. In addition team success (as well as success for individuals on the team) tends create greater engagement towards the sport, and an increased ability for the sport to remain (or become) attractive and relevant within that school/community.

To provide some perspective on the impact of single-class wrestling on the landscape of the sport within a given state, let's examine data from this past year's state tournament series in Indiana. As per the exhibit above, Indiana has a single-class state wrestling tournament. In addition, the quality of wrestling within the state is pretty good, as measured by the 12 wrestlers that were nationally ranked at the end of the 2013-14 high school season.

In terms of state tournament series format, it is symmetrical. Sixteen wrestlers qualify to the state tournament in each weight class (224 in total). Four semi-state tournaments advance four wrestlers each to that event, and the 16 wrestlers that qualify to semi-state per weight class (896 in total) have advanced through two initial tournaments in the state series.

There are over 300 high schools in the state of Indiana that sponsor high school wrestling. The below chart presents those schools based on the number of students enrolled. Information comes from here. The analysis in the two charts below is based on how each school fits into the four classifications used for the state basketball tournament.

Of interest here is the extreme dominance of the biggest enrollment schools in terms of producing state qualifiers and semi-state qualifiers (the pool of wrestlers from which the state qualifiers are produced).

To complement the above chart, the 74 largest enrollment schools that sponsor wrestling produced 113 (one more than half) of the state qualifiers; while the 89 largest enrollment schools that sponsor wrestling produced 413 (exactly half) of the semi-state qualifiers. Keep in mind that there are over 300 high schools in Indiana that sponsor wrestling.

One other question meriting examination is exactly to what extent is performance correlated to enrollment. To do this, I created metric (though it is somewhat artificial) using all schools that sponsored wrestling in basketball classifications 4A, 3A, and 2A -- along with those 1A schools with a semi-state qualifier.

For the enrollment side, the schools were ranked from highest to lowest enrollment; with the highest enrollment scoring 280 points, and the smallest 1 point.

The performance aspect had two separate components, as well as the sum of those components. The first component was the number of state qualifiers, while the second component was the number of semi-state qualifiers. For each component, the tiebreaker was the ranking in the other component. It was scored on a 280-to-1 scale similar to enrollment. The sum of the components was also ordered on a 280-to-1 scale.

For all three tests, the correlation coefficient between performance and enrollment was about 0.44. While it is not the strongest of correlations from a statistical standpoint, it does suggest that there is a degree of connectivity between wrestling program performance (as measured by state series success) and the size of the school.

Based on the types of conclusions that the data above yield, as well as more subjective considerations, it is my belief that classed wrestling tournaments tend to serve a broad set of interests. Those would include the growth of the sport, as well as the engagement of stake-holders at various levels. The exception to this would be cases where the number of schools and/or the quality of the wrestling talent pool does not justify the presence of (multiple) classes.

All that being said, there is some merit to arguments centering around the premise that having too many classes (for example, Virginia going from three to six for the 2013-14 season) can affirm the perceived "everyone gets a trophy" complex. It also can create a dynamic where winning a state title fails to carry the cache that one thinks it should. As with most topics discussed, there is no blanket answer. One should enter with an open mind and be willing to engage on multiple levels.


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coachc133 (1) about 4 years ago
Missing Oregon. 5 classes. 42 teams per class. Just give every kid a state placement trophy. If they don't think they deserve it they can mail it back. The northwest state tournaments are a joke(Washington 5, oregon 5, idaho 4).
DannyClarke (1) about 4 years ago
Issues I would take with your statistical analysis: Using only Indiana as your population pool.

How can you infer that the bigger schools produce better wrestlers? Is it not possible that better wrestlers are attracted to and attend larger schools?

I'm willing to bet that if you took a kid like Chance Marstellar put him in a youth program growing up and then sent him to either AA or AAA he would win the title regardless of the size of his school.
Bucksman (1) about 4 years ago
Indiana is the sample pool here for a couple of reasons:
(1) they are a single class state
(2) qualification to state is symmetrical
(3) their state tournament data was readily available
(4) i could find their enrollment data easily
(5) there is a solid "talent base" for wrestling in the state

If you read the article, I am not inferring that bigger schools produce better wrestlers. The intended assertion is that they tend to have more team and individual success.

The most elite kids can succeed regardless of school enrollment. However, success at the team/program level (as defined here by individuals qualifying to state/semi-state) has correlation with size of school.

The article isn't about who wins state titles, it's more about giving thought to how we enable more programs to be engaged and relevant within our scholastic community.
Bucksman (1) about 4 years ago
coach3133: that was an oversight on my part re: Oregon. The state tournament classifications in the northwest are probably driven by other sports (i.e. football & basketball). Would I agree that the number of classes is probably too many, yes. However, to say it should be everyone together would also be an extreme assessment.
coachc133 (1) about 4 years ago
It is driven by football. A strong coaches union like in mn would have stopped this. Basketball has complained that they can't find enough opponents in the regular season. I would like to know what state has the lowest amount of teams per class. 42 has to be close to the lowest.
dadams (1) about 4 years ago
What about the correlation between number of qualifiers and total student population. If the large schools represent 50% of the total student population shouldn't they represent a like amount of the total medals earned at state?

State champions are not equal. California has 1000+ wrestling high schools (heck the Southern Section has over 300) and one state champion Utah has 5 state champions. There are leagues in California that are tougher to win than some of these state championships.
pfeister (1) about 4 years ago
Class % of Pop. % of Qualifiers
4A 55.2% 63.4%
3A 30.9% 25.4%
2A 12.7% 10.3%
1A 1.1% 0.9%
JoshWDC (1) about 4 years ago
We're sending a bad message to kids by giving so many state medals/championships. That's not how the grown-up world works.

The VHSL (Virginia) "Championship" is now a joke with six classifications (plus a separate private school *state championship).

If a kid went 30-0 during the season going into states, but had an opportunity to go to the beach with is friends for the weekend, he'd probably rather go to the beach than win a Va State title now. Even the Head Coach from Va Tech (Dresser) said he can't go to the Va State tournament anymore.
Bucksman (1) about 4 years ago
I wouldn't be as rash as your last paragraph. State titles still mean something, and record may be a byproduct of many factors.

In terms of the second paragraph you wrote, I agree that six is probably too many. I think the three that there were previously was better. The decision on number of classes was made for other sports and implemented across the board. In terms of the private schools, they are independent of the VHSL (as you know), and feed into National Preps.
loosehead819 (1) about 4 years ago
It is not necessary to mirror the classes for every sport. Pennsylvania has four classes for many sports, but only two for wrestling. It also has some sports with three classes and one class.
pfeister (1) about 4 years ago
So 142 state championships, 14 weight classes and 6 placers at each weight class equals almost 12,000 state placers every year. This equates to 4.4% of total participants (270,000 in 2013) earning state medals.
psulou64 (1) about 4 years ago
Coming from NJ I guess that I am spoiled with 1 state champion for each weight class. Personally I understand in a team setting having a champion from each division (although having each championship team wrestle each other at the end would be great as well). I think that in an individual tournament 1 champion per weight class is ideal. I can understand states that have 2 different divisions but anything more than that is a joke. I think it detracts from the title of "state champion" and creates a false sense of accomplishment.
jwiebe (1) about 4 years ago
I think we have it right here in New England. Each state has their "watered down" class champions, but everyone's goal is the New England championship. It would be nice if the country was divided into 8 regions and each sent the top 4 to have a true national championship.
Bucksman (1) about 4 years ago
At the end of the day, that is not the mission of interscholastic athletics, which is something we fail to recognize.
tonyrotundo (1) about 4 years ago
AH, I just wrote a long comment and for like the tenth time it disappeared when I hit submit!!!? Balls! Is there a time limit to how long we can start a post and have to hit submit? You guys are missing out on mad insight! =)
gutfirst (1) about 4 years ago
multiple class states should follow the system used for njsiaa track and field. in nj school sizes are divided into 4 groups (public) and 2 groups (privite).

1st round is called state sections- based on school size (group) and location. 4 classes from each of the 4 sections of the state for public schools and 2 classes from 2 sections for privates. top 6 in each event advance.

2nd round is called groups- all of the classes have their own event for the entire state. 4 public, 2 private. the top 6 in each event advance.

the final round is called the meet of champions- we are left with one state champ in each event.

this can easily be transitioned to wrestling.
mray1 (1) about 4 years ago
I just wonder why we are so nit-picky in wrestling. Having more than a single champ isn't the worst thing in our sport. The suggestion that we could make regions to have a true National Champion would be ludicrous. New York , New Jersey, and Pennsylvania would have a strong argument about the top 4 and having to compete with New England. There are so many issues and why not allow more people to be recognized. 4.whatever percent of the kids being recognized is not an outrageous amount. Everyone should be careful what they wish for when budgets are screaming to be streamlined. They will make cuts and not give anything back. I certainly don't believe in "Everyone gets a trophy or a Medal" but I am surely in support of the values that wrestling teaches and if a kid on the fringe earns a medal, so what.
clevo (1) about 4 years ago
More state qualifiers and placewinners = more participation. This grows the sport and the fanbase for it. Let the big dogs prove their clout at FILA Cadet/Juniors, FS/GR Regionals, and in Fargo. As a 2x OH state qualifier, I recall going to Ironman, Cadet/Junior duals and nationals each year and stomping multiple time state champs from less wrestling-oriented states. I also recall losing to kids who never made a state tourney in their home state. The correction factor for state titles will always be national tourneys and HS majors. But for seasonal wrestlers, let's just let the HS system encourage participation, parity and sportsmanship.
mray1 (1) about 4 years ago
Couldn't agree with you more. We'll said.
rlsmith (1) about 4 years ago
NCAA has multiple National Champions based on size and number of scholarships